My previous post which you can find here, outlined the different elements that are needed to have a conversation. A breakdown in any one of these skills can impact on having a conversation. Spontaneous conversation is difficult to teach, because by its very nature, it has no fixed format.
Broadly defined, conversations are composed of related questions and comments. Often children do not know how to initiate a conversation beyond saying “hello, how are you?” and appear stumped when the conversation goes beyond this. Some children do not understand the components of a conversation, and it is often easier for them to understand the elements if they can see and listen to an entire conversation.
Plotagon, is a really useful app to use in order to familiarize children with the elements of a whole conversation. Plotagon allows you to create animated scenes. It is free with in-app purchases, and available on iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. There are a variety of different conversations and scenes that are already available on their lesson plan page, or you can create your own. Once children understand the concept of the whole conversation, it is often easier for them.
Many children experience difficulty having a conversation because they do not know what to talk about, or they do not have enough vocabulary in order to talk about a topic. Providing children with different topics to talk about, can be helpful. It is important to educate yourself so that you are aware of what the children are talking about.
Children do not necessarily talk about the topics that adults routinely prescribed for them. Depending on their age, children may talk about superheroes, dolls, movies, technology, video-games, toys or the latest collection craze. It is much easier to talk about something that you know.
Find out what the child is interested in so that you can use age appropriate topics of conversation. Eavesdrop on the playground or during playdates. 🙂
Maintaining the topic of conversation involves knowledge on the topic and having the vocabulary to talk about it. Once a topic is identified, different vocabulary around the topic can be taught.
Work on the two basic elements of conversation separately, before using them together.
Questions: “Have you seen that movie…….?” “Where is the best place to get….?” “Why is the park so full today?”
Some children may need to be explicitly taught how to ask different kinds of questions. Children with language difficulties may not understand the difference between a ‘what’ or a ‘why’ question. Make sure that the child is able to understand and use the different question forms. You may have to work on understanding and using different question forms. Don’t forget inverted questions, for example “Is it going to be warm tomorrow?”
Comments: “I love the warm weather!” “I am feeling sad today.”
Comments can be used to initiate a conversation or build the conversation.
Some children have difficulty maintaining the topic of conversation, because they have difficulty identifying appropriate associations with a word that is relevant to the topic. A child may hear the word ‘umbrella’ when talking about the beach, and veer off the topic to talk about rain because they associate the word umbrella with rain.
Teach children to make associations that are relevant to the topic. This can be helpful in maintaining the flow of the conversation. Playing an association game with a picture can provide visual support to assist children who have difficulties staying on the topic.
Conversation involves the sharing of ideas. In order to share ideas, participants need to take turns talking about a topic. Many children find it difficult to wait their turn. They may interrupt, or monopolize the conversation without giving others a turn to talk.
A useful way to monitor turn-taking in a conversation, is by giving each person in the conversation a point when they make a statement or ask a question. It is easy to record a short conversation using a smart-phone so that you can go back and listen. At the end of the conversation, add up the points. The points should be similar for each person in the conversation.
Poor listening skills can contribute to a breakdown of conversation. Good listeners use verbal and non-verbal signs to show that they are listening. Verbal signs may be words like “uh-huh.” Non-verbal signs may include eye-contact, head nodding, smiling or frowning. Frowning will let the conversation partner know that you disagree with them, or you do not understand what they are saying.
Modeling active listening to your child, is important to teach good listening skills. However, some children have difficulty developing these skills because they are easily distracted by things around them, or they become passive listeners without really attending to the information that is said.
Some strategies to teach good listening skills include
• Outline the elements of good listening. Use visual images to remind children about listening behavior using ears, eyes and brain. Listening with ears refers to hearing. Listening with eyes refers to eye-contact and listening with your brain refers to thinking about what the other person has said.
• Encourage the child to repeat the information that they heard.
• Play listening games like broken telephone.
• Use a secret word or phrase when reading a book that the child has to listen for.
• Watch a TV program with your child and identify non-verbal behavior, body language and gestures shown by the characters. You can increase the difficulty of this task by turning down the volume.
• Encourage them to respond to messages using non-verbal communication only. They can nod, shake their head, or use gesture to communicate to the speaker.
The tone of your voice can affect the message that is conveyed. Some children have difficulty modulating their voices and may use a mono-tone. They may talk too loudly or too softly.
Practice using different tones of voice so that the meaning of the sentence changes.
There is chocolate cake! (yay, I am happy)
There is chocolate cake. (ugh, that’s disgusting)
There is chocolate cake? (really? or where?)
There IS chocolate cake! (argumentative)
THERE is chocolate cake. (have a look over there)
Label different voice levels. A whisper could be number 1, a two way conversation, number 2, in a classroom, number 3, outside on the playground, number 4 and, number 5, the loudest voice, for an emergency. A number label can be a more concrete way for children to regulate their voice, rather than telling them to speak louder/ or softer.
Conversation is not taught at school, but without learning conversation, we cannot learn from one another.